What are the active and passive voices?

In English, sentences often have a subject and an object.

The subject is the person or thing that is doing the action.

The object is the person or thing that is receiving the action.

For example:

➜ E.g. The cow eats grass.

In this example, the subject is the cow because it does the action of eating the grass.

The grass is the object because it was acted upon.

When writing, two types of grammatical voices can be used, the active voice and the passive voice.

Active voice

What is the active voice?

The active voice tells us what a person or thing does, so the subject performs the action on the object.
The importance is on the subject doing the action.

The sentence structure is: subject + verb + object

The active voice is commonly used in both speaking and writing in English. The reason for this is that it is easier to understand and it is concise. The reader can easily identify who does what.

➜ E.g. Tom paints the wall.

In this example Tom is the subject, paints is the verb and the wall is the object. So Tom is acting on the object.

➜ E.g. I drove the car.

In this example I is the subject, drove is the verb and the car is the object. So I am carrying out an action on the object.

The active voice is used when you want to highlight the person or object doing the action rather than the action experienced by the person or object. It is the preferred voice in academic and formal writing. It is the most common voice used as it comes naturally to English speakers.

From the examples above we can see that the active voice results in shorter and more direct sentences.

Passive voice

What is the passive voice?

The passive voice tells us what is done to someone or something, so the subject is being acted upon.
The importance is on the action being done to the person or thing.

The sentence structure is: object + verb + subject

The passive voice can be used for a few different reasons:

➜ 1) The focus is on the action and not the subject e.g The wall was painted.

➜ 2) When we don’t who did the action, we know who did it but don’t want to say it, or it’s just not important enough to mention e.g. The ball was thrown.

➜ 3) When we want to put emphasis on the subject being acted upon e.g. The chair was broken by Adam.

➜ 4) Formal writing to sound polite e.g. The application form has been completed.

The passive voice is used when you want to highlight the action experienced by the person or object rather than the person or object doing the action. News reporters use the passive voice when reporting stories. The reason for this is to detach themselves from the story being reported and to avoid blaming.

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